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Kazakhstan does not comply with fair trial guarantees

By persecuting political opponents, the Kazakh authorities openly flout public assurances, given to the international community. Kazakhstan declares that the right to a fair trial will be observed with respect to opposition politicians, journalists and activists. However, court trials are held with a clear bias and bear signs of a political order. Human rights organisations and the governments of democratic states demand from Kazakhstan that it stops the illegal prosecution of political opponents and ensures the independence of the judiciary. However, the authorities do not heed the position of the international community, and the president states that in Kazakhstan “there is no political persecution’. The declarative nature of the performance of obligations by Kazakhstan in the sphere of human rights cannot be left unattended at the impending 20th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group of the UN.

1. Case of Galymzhan Zhakiyanov

1.1. Base for persecution:

Galymzhan Zhakiyanov was the governor of Semipalatinsk province (in 1994-1997) and akim of Pavlodar province (in 1997-2001). In 2001, he criticized the policy of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and was dismissed. He is one of the founders of the opposition party “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan”. The Kazakh authorities have accused Galymzhan Zhakianov of corruption and excess of official powers. He was hiding from arrest in the home, where were the Embassies of the French Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federative Republic of Germany in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

1.2. Comment of official authorities:

After five days of negotiations, on 3 April, 2002, the embassies of the three European countries and the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed a memorandum “in order to allow Mr. G. Zhakiyanov to voluntarily leave the building”. Kazakh authorities guaranteed Galymzhan Zhakiyanov an open and transparent trial, house arrest during the period of pre-trial investigation and access to diplomatic representatives of the European Union during the judicial process.

1.3. Result:

However, on 10 April, 2002, the Kazakh authorities violated the terms of the memorandum: Zhakiyanov was forcibly taken by military aircraft to Pavlodar, where during the pre-trial period, until 15 July, 2002, he was held in barracks of the ‘Pavlodarsol’ Company under armed guard.

During the interrogation, investigators ignored the health condition of Galimzhan Zhakiyanov, who on 18 May, 2002, suffered a heart attack after two long days of questioning by the investigator I.K. Kusainov. In order to obtain incriminating testimonial evidence against Galimzhan Zhakiyanov, two of his subordinates were beaten at the police station.  On 2 August, 2002, Zhakiyanov was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for abuse of power and official authority. The European Parliament labelled the indictment politically motivated. International organisations: Amnesty International  and Human Rights Watch recognised Galimzhan Zhakiyanov as a political prisoner. On 14 January, 2006, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov was released on parole, he currently resides outside the territory of Kazakhstan

2. Case of Zhanaozen oilmen 

2.1. Base for persecution:

By persecuting political opponents, the Kazakh authorities openly flout public assurances, given to the international community.

On 16 December, 2011, in the town of Zhanaozen (Mangistau Province), the police dispersed a peaceful demonstration by oil workers of the ‘OzenMunaiGaz’ company and their family members, with the use of firearms. The police fired on unarmed citizens and minors, amongst others, with the use of automatic weapons (AKM-47). On 17 December, 2011, at the railway station of the village of Shetpe, oil workers halted a passenger train and demanded that the authorities put an end to the shooting of civilians in Zhanaozen, the withdrawal of troops from the town and the restoration of electricity and cellular communication. The police also used firearms against demonstrators in the village of Shetpe. 37 oil workers were brought to criminal responsibility on charges of organising and participating in mass disorder.

2.2. Comment of official authorities:

In December 2011, Nursultan Nazarbayev asked the General Prosecutor to pay attention to “the need for a transparent, fair consideration of the criminal case and prosecution of all organisers and instigators of the riots to the full extent of the law”.

In October 2012, Nursultan Nazarbayev commented on the trial of oil workers as follows: “There was an absolutely open, public and transparent investigation and a fair trial, open to all media, to all those wishing to participate. Everyone who has been convicted, was condemned for a specific crime, and not for just anything. Also, those law enforcement officers who exceeded their authority and shot people, were convicted, as well as those who instigated it and were the reason behind the developments”.

2.3. Result:

Only 3 of 37 prosecuted oil workers were acquitted. 13 oil workers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 to 7 years, 16 persons were given suspended sentences of 2 to 3 years, and 5 were released under amnesty. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan released 6 oil workers from custody, but upheld the sentences of the remaining 7 prisoners, especially those who testified about the use of torture and ill-treatment by the investigating bodies (battery, suffocation, threats of rape or harm caused to relatives). At the Aktau trial, witnesses, one after another, renounced their testimonies given during the investigation, and stated that they had been subjected to physical as well as psychological abuse, but such statements were ignored by the court.  Also, according to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the trial on the case of Zhanaozen oilmen started without a full and objective investigation of the events which took place on December 16, 2011 and the following days; many witnesses (about 40 people) called in by the prosecution were policemen. 

3. Case of Vladimir Kozlov

3.1. Base for persecution:

Vladimir Kozlov is Kazakhstan opposition politician. From 2007, he served as Chairman of the Coordination Committee of the People’s Party ‘Alga!’. During the strike of oil workers in Zhanaozen, in 2011, Vladimir Kozlov spoke in support of the strikers, held meetings with them, issued official statements, ensured the delivery of drinking water, tents and legal literature. In addition, politician engaged economists, lawyers and human rights activists in order to bring about a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Vladimir Kozlov pointed to the inaction of the management of the OzenMunayGaz company and local and central government as the factor which led to the situation, and represented the interests of the strikers in the European Parliament, the European Commission and the OSCE. Upon his return from Brussels, on 23 January, 2012, Vladimir Kozlov was arrested immediately. According to the prosecution, Vladimir Kozlov joined an organised criminal group, established and financed from abroad by the former head of BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, with the aim of undermining and destructing the social and political foundations of the constitutional system of Kazakhstan.  Vladimir Kozlov was presented with charges of:  incitement of social discord, calls for an overthrow of the constitutional order,the establishment and leadership of a criminal organisation.

3.2. Comment of official authorities:

Many government representatives reacted with bewilderment to the negative reaction of the international community to the judicial prosecution of Vladimir Kozlov; they insisted that the prosecution was lawful and just. For example, on 10 October, 2012, Nurdaulet Suindikov, a spokesman for the General Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan, stated that “the trial was held in the conditions of maximum transparency, in compliance with the principle of full consideration of the case and equality of the parties,” “the trial was attended by representatives of various non-governmental organisations, the media, international observers”,”the court examined all evidence, presented by the prosecution and defence”.

3.3. Result:

On 8 October, 2012, the Mangistau City Court found Vladimir Kozlov guilty of committing deeds and sentenced him to 7 and a half years’ imprisonment with confiscation of property. Despite the statements of Kazakh public servants, numerous violations of the right to a fair trial were noted.  For example, some witnesses’ testimonies were falsified; the court completely ignored the testimony of witnesses confirming the innocence of the defendant. Also, the court sessions were held entirely in the Kazakh language, which Vladimir Kozlov doesn’t speak; at the same time, observers present at the trial highlighted the poor quality of translation from Kazakh to Russian, and other. Catherine Ashton (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union), Riccardo Migliori (Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE), organisations Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, sharply criticised the verdict and called on the Kazakh authorities to stop using the criminal law in order to fight political opponents. Human rights organisations and governments of democratic countries recognised Vladimir Kozlov as a political prisoner, and repeatedly urged the Kazakh authorities to reconsider the verdict.

4. Case of independent and opposition media

4.1. Base for persecution:

In December 2012, Kazakhstan courts brought charges against the most influential independent media based on the politically motivated court judgement against oppositionist Vladimir Kozlov: the Vzglyad newspaper, the online news portal, the TV channel К+, ‘one media outlet ‘Respublika’ (the prosecutors applied that name in reference to 8 newspapers and 23 online news portals).

Independent media outlets and opposition associations, which had been covering the tragic events in Zhanaozen in the most comprehensive way, were accused by the authorities of extremism and inciting social discord. The trials against a number of media outlets in Kazakhstan were initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office of Almaty on 20 November, 2012. The Prosecutor’s Office motivated its actions by the content of the valid court sentence, handed down in respect of an opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov on 8 October, 2012. The judgment clearly states that “the conceptual content of the materials of the ‘K+’ TV channel, the internet portals: ‘’ and ‘Respublika’, the newspapers: ‘Golos Respubliki’, ‘Respublika’ and ‘Vzglyad’ “is aimed at inciting social discord”. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the court’s conclusions were based on the findings of a number of forensic examinations.

4.2. Comment of official authorities:

Advisor to the President of Kazakhstani, Ermukhamet Ertysbayev noted that the court had not gathered a sufficient evidence base to ban the media outlets, but that does not mean that they should not have been banned. For example, he commented as follows, “I personally think that during the closure of the Vzglyad newspaper, the Institute of forensic science and linguistic experts should have been involved, and all the content of the newspaper should have been carefully analysed. If desired, several articles could have been found and it could have been proven that the newspaper directly or indirectly called for social discord. I have personally seen such materials in this paper, but the court has not fully used its competence and evidence is now being criticised. But I did read on the ‘Respublika’ website material which indirectly called for the territorial division of the country, raised international problems and in between the lines you could read the question about a latent separatism in the north of Kazakhstan”.

4.3. Result:

The trials bore traits of a political order and were carried out with an apparent bias towards the prosecution.

The decision to ban the media outlets was a blow not only to the journalistic community, but also to the entire civil society in Kazakhstan.

In 2012, Kazakhstan courts brought charges against:

  • the Vzglyad newspaper
  • the online news portal
  • the TV channel К+
  • ‘one media outlet ‘Respublika’ (the prosecutors applied that name in reference to 8 newspapers and 23 online news portals)

The European Parliament, organisation “Amnesty International”, Committee to Protect Journalists, Markus Loening (the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid), Dunja Mijatovic (the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media), and many other representatives of international community condemned the closure of independent media outlets in 2012, claiming that it harms pluralism and media freedom in Kazakhstan. Despite these comments, the Kazakh authorities continue to restrict the activities of independent media through judicial decisions. Some recent examples include: restricting the activities of the newspapers ‘Pravda Kazakhstana’ [‘The Truth of Kazakhstan’], ‘Pravdivaya Gazeta’ [‘The Truthful Newspaper’] and ‘Tribuna’ [‘Tribune’]. Also, independent journalists face accusations of libel; some of them were forced to leave the country and seek refuge abroad (e.g. Aidos and Natalia Sadykovy).

5. The use of the judiciary to persecute political opponents

In its resolution on Kazakhstan dated 18 April, 2013, the European Parliament expressed concern that in Kazakhstan, based on trials that did not meet international standards, opposition leaders, trade unionists and human rights activists were sentenced, including Vladimir Kozlov, Roza Tuletaeva, and Vadim Kuramshin.

In July 2013, Nursultan Nazarbayev stated: “With regard to human rights and freedoms, I believe that Kazakhstan provides basic rights. (…) We do not have political persecution, and if someone, as you say, is in prison, and so on – please cite such names. (For now) it is just general talk (…)”.

It should be noted that many cases of unjust court prosecution attracted attention of the international community, but the Kazakh authorities have not commented on them. For example,the cases of Vadim Kuramshin, Bahtzhan Kashkumbayev, Alexandr KharlamovZinaida Mukhortova, Aron Atabek and Mukhtar Dzhakishev. The Azattyk radio station notes that the resonant case of Mukhtar Dzhakishev, who was sentenced to 14 years’ inprison, is not commented on by Kazakh officials. Kazakh pro-government politicians (political party leaders) stated that they did not follow the case, and so they cannot comment on it.

In its recent report on human rights in the world, the U.S. State Department noted that one of the most significant problems in the field of human rights abuses in Kazakhstan is “the lack of an independent judiciary and due process, especially in dealing with pervasive corruption and abuses by law enforcement and judicial officials. … The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. … Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process.”


N. Nazarbayev

about political persecutions:

“With regard to human rights and freedoms, I believe that Kazakhstan provides basic rights. (…) We do not have political persecution, and if someone, as you say, is in prison, and so on – please cite such names. (For now) it is just general talk (…)”.

The corruption of Kazakhstan’s courts have been noted by the members of the Polish Bar Council following their observation mission in Kazakhstan.

Also, the Freedom House organisation in its latest report noted that judges in Kazakhstan are appointed by the President of Kazakhstan and have no political independence; on the contrary – they serve the interests of the authorities. So when the case is politically motivated, the courts rule in favour of the ruling regime.

This situation completely contravenes the statements of the Kazakh delegation on the results of  the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights in 2010. The Kazakh authorities ignore the recommendations of the UN countries within the UPR, in particular:

  • To take measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, to implement existing judicial procedures and to tackle the issue of corruption in its courts;
  • To take measures to prevent any interference in the exercise by defence lawyers of their functions, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • To take measures to limit the powers of public prosecutors and bring criminal procedure into greater conformity with article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • To continue to develop the rule of law, including the independence of the judiciary and the impartiality of court processes, in order to bring legislation and practices further into line with the principles of the international legal system;
  • To impose concrete measures to ensure that courts carry out their functions in accordance with ratified international treaties;
  • To continue to improve the judicial system to guarantee the rights of those in detention or in prison.

We draw attention to the fact that the statements of the Kazakh authorities on the democratic direction of development of the state do not correspond to reality. Kazakhstan’s gross violations of international obligations in the field of human rights bring about tragic consequences: the oppression of opposition activists and journalists; destroyed lives of political prisoners; ill-treatment in places of detention.

For more detailed information, please address:

Katerina Savchenko – [email protected]
Igor Savchenko – [email protected]